After outcry over demolition plan, Terrain yanks proposal
Amid widespread criticism from the public, Terrain garden center and outdoor furniture store this week withdrew a proposal to demolish a house on the store's Post Road East property to make room for eight parking spaces, two years after assuring planning and zoning officials the historic building would not be razed if the need for additional parking arose.
Planning and Zoning Director Larry Bradley said Terrain plans to present modified plans that are expected to call for preserving the 1900-circa wood-frame building at 561 Post Road East -- which also had been used for commercial outlets -- to the Planning and Zoning Commission on July 18. A Historic District Commission hearing on the initial plan to demolish the structure, which had been scheduled Tuesday night, was cancelled.
"I'm very pleased that the house is going to be saved. That was the goal all along," said Matthew Mandell, a representative to RTM District 1 who made a video he posted to YouTube outlining the issues at stake.
Terrain's withdrawn proposal had sparked a firestorm of pubic criticism over the last week.
Among the critics was one of the owners of the property, Tom Curran, whose family leases the 1.61-acre property to Terrain's parent company, Urban Outfitters. The Terrain property was the site of Curran Cadillac for four decades, and Tom Curran said his family had assurances from Terrain that the home would be spared when the lease was signed in 2011.
"I'm totally against the proposal," Curran told the Westport News on Monday. "It was not what they had promised us."
Terrain's withdrawn plan was to be reviewed by the Historic District Commission on Tuesday night and submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday. The Historic District Commission automatically reviews any proposal that calls for demolition of a building more than 50 years old.
Cathy Talmadge, a delegate to the Representative Town Meeting in District 6 -- which includes the Terrain property -- said the site has proved to be a nuisance to neighbors since the store opened about a year ago. Patrons who can't find on-site parking often park in front of houses on Crescent Road, she said. The store also houses a restaurant, which further exacerbates the parking crunch.
"Terrain needs to live up to its responsibilities," Talmadge said. "One of the things that makes the Post Road in Westport unique is that we were able to keep scale and historic buildings."
Solving the site's parking dilemma does not necessitate the demolition of the historic house, Talmadge and others said. Terrain's 2011 proposal to the Planning and Zoning Commission included a provision for so-called "reserve parking" -- spaces that can be activated if needed by demand.
Much of that reserve parking is now covered by greenhouses, plants and garden equipment on the eastern side of the property. Terrain uses on-site valet parking and zoning officials have asked them to activate the reserve parking to accommodate the needs. But Terrain officials seemed loathe to remove part of the merchandise area to accommodate the need for more parking spaces, and would have preferred to demolish the historic house.
Public backlash, however, apparently made them reconsider.
Calls to Ken Nemeth, senior development manager for Urban Outfitters, the Terrain parent company, and Langan Engineering's Jason Engelhardt, a traffic engineer on the proposed project, were not returned.
Mandell pointed out that the demolition of the house would create eight new parking spaces. "No historic house should be razed for eight parking spots," he said.
The building is located at the westernmost tip of the property and the proposed parking spaces might be too close to the adjacent roads per zoning regulations, Bradley said. Consequently any new parking spaces in that area might need to be reviewed for a waiver of the regulations by the Zoning Board of Appeals before it's reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Commission, Bradley said.
Further complicating matters is that Tom Curran filed a lawsuit in December against two brothers, James Curran of Westport and Chris Curran of Shelton. At issue is who controls the property at 561 Post Road East and who has the right to give Terrain permission to make changes to the site.